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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

TCN Blog 2012 top story #18: McGwire leaves St. Louis for LA

The St. Louis Cardinals were Mark McGwire’s baseball home during his heights as player and as a hitting coach following his self-imposed exile from the game. In early November, he chose to return to his real home, Southern California, leaving the Cardinals after three seasons in the role to take the same position with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

These last three years had been part of a major transformation, if not a rebirth, for the slugger once known as Big Mac. After being shamed for use of performance-enhancing substances as a player, the former home run champion was lured back into the game by manager Tony La Russa prior to the 2010 season.

Though he had already informally tutored several Cardinals players, including Skip Schumaker, Chris Duncan and Matt Holliday, McGwire’s first official coaching job in affiliated baseball was when he accepted La Russa’s offer to succeed Hal McRae as St. Louis’ hitting coach.

Once a carefully-orchestrated process for McGwire to accept public responsibility his past sins played out in early 2010, the now-49-year-old was able to settle into the background typical of the position.

Seemingly never comfortable in the spotlight even when hitting 220 home runs in 4 ½ seasons as a Cardinal, including a then-record 70 in 1998, his new supporting role seemed to suit McGwire well.

Established major league hitters like Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Lance Berkman and Albert Pujols continued to perform well under his coaching, while younger hitters such as David Freese, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina emerged.

If the bottom line for an offense is scoring runs, St. Louis showed marked improvement during the McGwire years. Over the three seasons preceding his hiring (2007-09), the Cardinals ranked eighth in the National League in runs scored. The following three seasons, they moved up to second.

Under McGwire, the Cardinals led the NL in batting average (.269) and on-base percentage (.337), ranked fourth in slugging percentage (.416) and third in OPS (.753). The Cards hitters also batted an NL-best .274 with runners in scoring position.

McGwire’s coaching stint was highlighted by the Cardinals’ 2011 World Championship season. That year, the Cardinals led the NL in batting average (.273), on-base percentage (.341), slugging percentage (.425, tied), OPS (.766) and runs scored (762), while striking out a National League-low 978 times.

Before advancing to the 2012 National League Championship Series, St. Louis led the league with a .338 on-base percentage and ranked among the Senior Circuit leaders in runs (765, 2nd), hits (1,526, tied for first), batting average (.271, 2nd), slugging percentage (.421, 4th) and OPS (.759, 3rd). St. Louis hitters tied for second in the NL with a .264 batting average with runners in scoring position this past season.

McGwire had been offered a contract to stay on with St. Louis for a fourth season in 2013 and second year under new manager Mike Matheny, but the native of Pomona, Cal. and current resident of Irvine, Cal, felt the pull of home was too strong. The Dodgers officially named him as their new hitting coach on November 7, with John Mabry promoted from assistant hitting coach to replace him with St. Louis.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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5 Responses to “TCN Blog 2012 top story #18: McGwire leaves St. Louis for LA”

  1. blingboy says:

    Somebody gave Xavier Nady a minor league deal. I don’t see $5M difference between him and our guy.

  2. blingboy says:

    Couple things I’m thinking about on a slow news day:

    I’m thinking Boras could stir up plenty of ‘buzz’ about Lohse if he wanted to, but so far he hasn’t really. So maybe his strategy is to let other top FA starters sign so Kyle rises to the top of the availibles. At that point he should command top dollar especially as to AAV if he drops down to 3 years. He wasn’t going to get one these deals like we’ve seen anyway. My feeling is he will never be as good as he was for the Cards (when healthy) but I hope he cashes in big.

    The Rangers are short an outfielder with bop. They might have a spare shortstop. Too bad there is nothing we can do along those lines. Mo has shown an inclination for the 3 team gambit. Maybe we could do something after all. We won’t though.

    An admitedly trivial aside, but I’m wondering why we could possibly need both Romak and Parque. Both recently signed for some reason. One or the other maybe.

    • WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

      There are some serious whizzing contests going on in baseball right now BB. Survival in the AL east……the AL west………the NL west.. Cards do nothing in the central…….. Brewers are just hanging….. Cubs have lots of money…… Boston competing for last place?…….Nats worried about the Phil’s…Phil’s worried about the Phil’s….. the money is out there… will get spent in a 3yr deal…………… some teans can only go so high……you have to give them a yearly latter to compete………..way to many hungry teams waiting for a chance………

      • blingboy says:

        Mo better stay out of the whizzing contests, the way he hosed himself down with Wiggy.

        The Cards can compete in the NL Central as is, so why shouldn’t they, I guess. If you can stay in striking range of a WC spot, its more about being hot at the right time than about how good your team is. I think quite a few big spending GMs don’t understand that.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Romak plays 1B and 3B along with RF. Versatile guy to have around. Upper levels of system not overloaded with top position players.

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